The month of April is without doubt one of the busiest months for practicing groundsman, greenkeepers, contractors and sports turf professionals.
The end of April signals the end of the winter games season, with both the football and rugby union seasons coming to an end, followed quickly by a robust end of season renovation programme.
April is also a busy time for greenkeepers who are now perhaps finishing off their winter course works, while at the same time completing their spring renovation programmes on tees, greens and fairways.
However, the biggest challenge, especially for many of the school and college groundsmen, is overseeing the change over from winter sports to summer sports. Most large independent schools usually offer a plethora of summer sports that include athletics, cricket, archery, rounders, softball, and tennis.
As always it will be the weather that dictates what can be achieved in this short window of change. This year we have been blessed with very favourable weather conditions, with higher than average soil and air temperatures that initiated a good flush of growth in March.
As I mentioned in a recent spring renovation blog, the essence of a good renovation is planning and carrying out the desired work to achieve your aims and objectives. For most winter games pitches at grass roots level, it should be about relieving compaction, reintroducing some new seed and repairing worn areas. Do not skimp on these works, invest in a good quality grass seed mixtures and, if budgets allow, top dress and fertilise your pitches.
Each year the cricket season, seems to start earlier, with many cricket clubs seeing matches start early April. No doubt a busy time, especially for the county cricket guys - and particularly Tim Packwood at Worcester CCC, who as usual started this season with his outfield flooded by the River Severn.
I particularly like April, seeing the hedges, spring flowering trees and shrubs coming into leaf and blossom, which in turn signals the start of the main grass cutting season. A recent trip to Tatton Park, Cheshire with Paul Todd, manager of the Green Flag Awards enabled us to see at first hand the gardens in full colour. April is a busy time for Paul and his team, as they have to initiate the start of the annual Green Flag awards judging process, where over 500 judges from all over the country take time out to visit and inspect over 1800, UK parks and public open spaces. I myself usually get five or six parks to judge each year, along with some mystery shopping visits.
The Green Flag Awards scheme has been running for well over twenty years and has become standard benchmark for local authorities (LA’s) to work towards in delivering effective parks services.
Ideally you should have had your mowers serviced and sharpened ready for the new season. For many LA’s the start of the grass cutting season is often quite a challenge, with many still facing severe cut backs in funding. Many have had to change their cutting regime policies, often reducing the number of cutting cycles per year.
This will have a knock-on effect in terms of what machinery they will need to use to achieve a finish that is acceptable. In the past, in the days of 30-cuts-per-year regimes, many authorities use to use cylinder reel mowers. However, over the last ten years with cutting cycles down to less than 15-cuts-per-year, rotary mowers have been the first choice of mower to fulfil requirements.
We are now though, seeing some LA’s reducing their cutting regimes further still with many now only able to afford ten or less cuts per year - coupled with many instigating the now popular wildflower areas, that require only a single annual cut and collect regime.
This has meant many contractors now have to invest in new and often specialist equipment to cope with these ever-changing mowing regimes. Flail cut and collect mowers are becoming more popular investments for councils and contractors to cope with these new demands.
Personally, I think there needs to be a balance between quality and quantity. Allowing the grass to grow too long on road side verges will no doubt lead to other issues such as litter collection and sight lines. The grass cutting regime should reflect the characteristics of the borough or town and its surroundings.
We now have a fantastic array of machinery and equipment to help maintain our ever-changing landscape requirements. The real skill and challenge is to convince people to invest in the appropriate resources to deliver an acceptable level of service for our communities.